Customer experience emerges as 2020 bright spot: consumers see positive shift in service and signal increasing digital engagement, Mitel reports

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The results of new global research from Mitel offer encouraging signs for CX and point to areas where IT decision-makers should prioritise improvements as they look beyond today’s challenging business environment. The research polled more than 4,000 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany to gauge the pandemic’s current impact on CX, anticipated effects, and identify opportunities for organizations to better meet customer expectations now and exceed them longer term.

CX has improved during COVID-19, according to 60% of consumers

While the demands on customer service operations and contact centers, particularly, have increased since the onset of COVID-19, many organisations appear to be adapting well. More than half of Brits (60%) have seen a positive shift in the type of customer experience organisations have been offering in response to the pandemic, specifically in the retail (50%) and healthcare (34%) industries. This suggests a healthy number of organisations do, in fact, view CX as an extension of the products or services they provide and are finding ways to deliver better CX, even in unpredictable times.

The research also validates that the foundations for good and bad CX are mostly universal with only slight regional differences. Among the top drivers equated with good CX by UK consumers: friendly, helpful, knowledgeable customer representatives (65%); responsiveness and fast service (49%); and communication that informs every step of the way (42%). Bad CX, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast. UK consumers attribute bad CX to being transferred multiple times and having to repeat oneself over and over (52%); being placed on hold (49%); and having too many steps to navigate (43%).

“A strong takeaway from the research is that consumers feel organizations are responding positively, in terms of CX. When CX fails to hit the mark, an organisational or technology issue is at play. If there’s a customer-centric culture, contact centre agents, for example, will make the best of what they have and find a way to delight customers,” said Jon Arnold, principal, J Arnold & Associates. “That said, many businesses are hampered by their current technology. Culture change to become customer-centric can take years. Organizations can help empower and accelerate that process by effectively implementing the right technology, and upgrades can be done quickly, especially with cloud-based offerings.”

Traditional communication channels still dominate, but use of digital options is growing

When asked which channels they typically use to engage with customer service, respondents cited telephone and email. Interestingly, the research reveals a gap between actual usage and preference for these channels, where preference appears lower and implies customers would rather use other channels if possible. In-person is the only channel where preference is, not surprisingly, higher than actual due to the current environment.

Unsurprisingly, nearly half (45%) of UK consumers also said their use of online customer services has increased this year and of that number; however, of that number, more than 73% said they will rely on digital options more going forward, validating general speculation that consumer and business trends are headed for a permanent shift in engagement behaviour as a result of the pandemic. Whether their digital engagement with customer service rose or remained the same in 2020, nearly half of all respondents plan to increase their use chatbots, virtual agents and self-service overall. Because many contact centers have been slow to support these capabilities, investment in these areas is warranted and will likely spur further use and preference.

Consumers credit retail with delivering the best CX

The survey additionally looked at what industries consumers interacted with most often before the health crisis and whether that had changed. Commonly used industries remained the same – retail, healthcare and personal care – with minimal drop-off in usage. The only two verticals addressed in the survey with noticeable drop-off were hospitality and sports/entertainment, neither of which is unexpected given are social distancing restrictions and greater caution in spending.

Retail and healthcare also received the highest marks for best CX with retail enjoying a double-digit lead, with 34% of UK consumers stating that they’ve had the best customer experiences with the retail industry. Government services ranked worst in terms of customer experience with almost a quarter of Brits (23%) expressing low satisfaction with the customer services provided by public sector organisations. Considering retail’s embrace of digital transformation and its natural fit with the online world, other industries like government, which ranked worst in CX, could stand to benefit from retail’s best practices around CX. Retail provides a helpful blueprint for combining the right mix of contact centre technologies to enable customers to seamlessly engage with an organization using their preferred device and media. Retail’s adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics is also worth modelling for creating deeper levels of personalization.

Why companies don’t provide great CX and what consumers want to see more of

While good CX is seldom due to a single attribute or driver, an enjoyable experience generally translates into increased overall satisfaction and customer loyalty, resulting in recommendations to family and friends and continued shopping or engagement with an organization. These outcomes also provide the rationale for ongoing investment in CX-related initiatives and technology. Arguably, there’s a steep price for bad CX. Close to half of UK consumers (48%) will stop using an organisation’s services and another 48% will complain to family and friends.

Perception is also reality when it comes to CX. When organisations fall short, customers assume often assume several things: the organisation isn’t aware of how important CX is (40%), or that CX is more important than the product (36%), or they’re simply unwilling to provide a great CX (29%).

As businesses evolve their CX practices and seek news ways to enhance experiences through technology, the data also offers a glimpse into what options customers would like to see more often. Nearly half agree tools need to be easier to use. More mobile apps, virtual services, such as telehealth, and video interactions are also preferred.

“The recent shift in customer perception around CX is highly encouraging. Businesses are demonstrating they view CX as a strategic differentiator and they’re wisely prioritizing customer service at a time when connections matter more than ever,” said John Buszka, executive vice president of customer experience, Mitel. “The trick now becomes sustaining the momentum they’ve so carefully worked to build. By leveraging cloud communications, artificial intelligence, omni-channel capabilities and other advanced digital technologies and balancing them with the right level of human touch, they can continue to personalize the customer journey and deliver the kinds of exceptional experiences that keep customers coming back for more.”